In loco parentis is a Latin term that translates to “in the place of a parent.” In legal terms, in loco parentis refers to a relationship in which an individual or organization takes on some of the responsibilities or functions of a parent. This usually occurs when a parent is absent, such as when a child is in school and an educator must assume responsibility for the child’s wellbeing.
The term in loco parentis is also a common term used in child custody and visitation matters. Step-parents, grandparents, relatives, and others may have the right to in loco parentis access if the biological parents are unable or unfit to parent. In some situations, a step-parent or relative who has provided parental care to a child may be able to establish regular visitation even if the parent is deemed fit.
Claiming in Loco Parentis Status in Arizona
In Arizona, when an individual who is not the biological parent to a child seeks child custody or visitation, they may have the right to claim in loco parentis status. A court may find in favor of the non-parent if he or she can demonstrate that a bond or meaningful relationship has been developed with the child for a significant amount of time, or that a custody exchange or visitation rights would be in the best interest of the child. However, this requires a high burden of proof and may result in a denied request.
It is not uncommon for children to be cared for by a non-parental guardian. If a non-parent provides full-time care for a child for a prolonged period of time, it may become prudent to establish custody or legal guardianship. For a non-parent to establish legal guardianship, the court must award the person with sole responsibility of any personal decisions regarding the life and wellbeing of the minor. Children under the age of 14 are generally appointed a guardian by the court, while children over age 14 may have some say in who they would like to be their guardian.
Parental permission is not always required to establish custody. However, a lack of parental permission will result in a more complex case. For an exchange of child custody to take place, the court must determine that the child’s wellbeing is at stake with either of their legal parents and that the non-parent is able to properly care for the child. In the majority of cases, the court will not consider granting non-parental custody unless one of the child’s legal parents has died, been missing for more than three months, or if the parents are divorced, separated or have a divorce or annulment pending.
Establishing Non-Parent Custody in Arizona
In Arizona, revised statutes §25-415, Custody by Non-parent, defines who and how a non-parent can establish custody of a child that is not theirs. This process requires the filing of a petition in the County Superior Court in the location where the child permanently resides. The petition should include extensive details to support the petitioner’s position and notice must be sent to the child’s parents, the child’s guardian, a person who has court ordered custody, a person or agency who has physical custody of the child, or any person or agency that has previously appeared in the action.
Speak with an Experienced Family Law Attorney
Establishing in loco parentis is a difficult journey, even if a parent has proven to be unfit or unavailable. If you are in a situation where you need to act as a parent or guardian for someone else’s child for a limited time or indefinite period, a court order of in loco parentis custody may make this possible. Reach out to our qualified family law attorneys today at JacksonWhite Law to learn more about your options or to discuss your case.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to hire a qualified attorney today.